No visiting player — not Michael Jordan, not Allen Iverson, not even Stephen Curry — brought the buzz to a Toronto Raptors game that Kobe Bryant did during his 20-year NBA career. When Kobe’s Lakers were in town — only 16 times in all, since he played in the other conference — the stands were always dotted with hundreds of Kobe jerseys and his every move was often cheered.
Bryant died in tragic circumstances in a helicopter crash on Sunday morning, along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, herself a budding basketball star, and reportedly seven others. They were reportedly on the way to a nearby hoops practice. Bryant had famously travelled by helicopter to games and practices at Staples Center while a player for years in order to get around the notorious Los Angeles traffic.
It’s a where were you moment. Like when Princess Diana perished in 1997, or at least for Canadian sports fans, when Roy Halladay’s plane went down in 2017.
Bryant idolized and patterned himself in both game and mannerisms after Michael Jordan and then became that same type of Jordan figure to a whole new generation of players who revered him, along with countless fans.
“He was like a little brother to me,” Jordan said in a statement on Sunday.
“The sad part about today is he was the one everyone looked up to especially this generation of players,” added Atlanta Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce.
“To see the way he was coming out of retirement in playing to being just a leader of people, WNBA, AAU programs, children’s books. We lost a leader.”
Bryant had spoken about youngsters looking up to him just a few years ago while in Toronto. “Been in NBA for half my life. When I first started playing the other all-stars were my kids’ age,” Bryant had said.
“Feels good to speak to them and share my knowledge and carry on the tradition of the NBA.”
The tradition of the NBA will always include a large helping of Kobe Bryant highlights. Bryant played all 20 of his seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers and retired in 2016 as the NBA’s third-leading scorer and a five-time champion, winning a pair of NBA Finals MVP awards. He was an 18-time all-star and made the All-NBA first team 11 times and was one of the world’s most recognizable faces over the past two decades.
In a weird coincidence, new Lakers star LeBron James passed Bryant in scoring on Saturday night in Bryant’s native Philadelphia and went on a lengthy post-game monologue tracing his long relationship with Bryant and praising his legacy. Hours later, Bryant was gone.
Bryant is survived by his wife, Vanessa, and his other three daughters. TMZ reported a fire broke out on board and there were reports of the engine sputtering before the crash.
The son of former NBA player Joe (Jellybean) Bryant, Kobe, also known as The Black Mamba and Bean, entered the league straight from Lower Merion High School in Philadelphia and also grew up in Italy, after his father had left to play in Europe, but moved back to the U.S. in 1991. He orchestrated a trade to the Lakers, his favourite team as a child, at the 1996 draft, after Charlotte selected him 13th overall. Bryant would team with marquee free agent signing Shaquille O’Neal and turn the Lakers into a powerhouse and by the turn of the Millennium, one of the most imposing dynasties in NBA history. The Lakers won three straight titles, and then two more after Shaq left and Bryant became the team’s undisputed top player (in 2009 and 2010).
Bryant had some history with Toronto. He averaged 26.6 points — only six have averaged more — in those 16 visits, starting with an inauspicious 10 in 17 minutes as an 18-year-old playing just his fourth career game back in 1996. There was a 46-point clinic in 2008, a 40-piece in 2000 and a 27-point, 16 rebound, nine assist gem in 2010, amongst others.
Bryant also made his 18th, and final, all-star appearance at Toronto in 2016, where he shone brightest even amongst all of the NBA’s superstars. Once again, Bryant was feted like a returning king. In a bittersweet moment, Gianna rebounded for her father before the game and sat with her sisters and mother during the proceedings.
“They were sitting right behind the bench, so I was talking to them virtually the whole game,” Bryant said at the time. “They’ve enjoyed this as much as I have, coming to these arenas.”
Another of Bryant’s biggest moments also had a Toronto connection. Who could forget the day in 2006 when Bryant put a hurting on the Raptors. On that winter day, with the Lakers down big, he got as hot as just about any player ever has, finishing with 81 points in a victory. Only Wilt Chamberlain has ever scored more in a game. The historic performance was later immortalized in classic fashion in a commercial that had Bryant running into ex- Raptor Jalen Rose, who spent some time guarding him, unsuccessfully, that day. Bryant orders a martini and when asked how many olives he wanted in the drink, he deadpans: “81,” stunning Rose.
Bryant shot better against the Raptors (.471 from the field) than against any other club and the 27.2 points he managed against the team where his third-highest marks.
As a player, Bryant was immensely successful, but was also polarizing because of his one-man army style of offensive ruthlessness and his lack of efficiency.
Former Raptors head coach Dwane Casey told a funny Bryant story speaking to his competitiveness and confidence after Bryant’s final game in Toronto.
In his first all-star appearance, a still teenaged Bryant waved the league’s MVP out of the post so that he could run an isolation play.
“Karl Malone yelled over to (West head coach George Karl), ‘George, get me out of here,’ some choice words. ‘I can’t play with these young guys.’ That’s how much (swagger) Kobe had at the time,” Casey, a part of Karl’s coaching staff, recalled.
“At the time. It was just the fact that he had so much confidence that even with all of these old players around, he cleared them out so he could go ISO on somebody. It wasn’t too long, after those first few years, that he gained confidence and could back it up.”
His legion of supporters would not hear of any criticism of his game though. His relationship with O’Neal was an up-and-down one at times, but Shaq mourned the loss of his “brother” and “niece” on Sunday.
Off the court, Bryant’s legacy will always be marred somewhat by whatever happened in Colorado back in 2003. He was charged with sexual assault, but the charges were eventually dropped and a civil suit was settled out of court.
Bryant would later become one of the strongest advocates for women’s sports, especially the WNBA, a supporter of many charities, a filmmaker and an author.
A complicated, unforgettable figure.
And one gone far too soon.
Everyone had something to say about Kobe Bryant over the years, including the man himself. Here are some quotes from recent years that stood out from games we covered:
Bryant in 2016 at Toronto on why he was so fundamentally sound:
“I grew up around so much structure (in Italy). I didn’t start playing pick-up basketball until I came back to the States when I was 14 years old. Everything was very structured, very fundamental. Moving without the ball, setting screens the right way. All the basics.”
On how he wanted to be remembered:
“As a person who worked extremely hard every single day, who left it all out there. That’s the most important thing. It has nothing to do with talent, it has nothing to do with the championships. It has everything to do with working hard every single day, leaving no stone unturned. If you can look yourself in the mirror and say that you’ve done that. You should be happy and be proud of yourself.”
Bryant on where his 81-point game against the Raptors ranked:
“It’s right up there. I think the moment of the game was more special, not just from a basketball standpoint but from a family standpoint. It was my grandfather’s birthday who had passed away recently. My grandmother, who doesn’t like coming to the games because it makes her so nervous, flew out to LA and watched me play. So from a personal standpoint, that game has a tremendous amount of value, aside from what took place on the court.”
Bryant on what was next for him after he retired and how to fill the void of not playing basketball:
“With my passion. That’s the hard part about it. It took me about 15 years to figure out what the next step is. But I’m very excited about it and I’m extremely passionate about it and focussed on it. That is the hard challenge for athletes, to figure out what comes next, because basketball or sports or whatever it is, comes so easy, right. You’re born and this is what you do from a young age and it’s hard to figure out what the next thing is. But I’ll be fine.”
Bryant on his style not appealing to everyone:
“I think it’s that I play with a chip on my shoulder, man. I didn’t care who was out there in front of me. My job was to make your night absolutely miserable. And that was my mindset. I came out to destroy you. With me it was going to be a very long night, physically, emotionally. I think fans could sense that, competitors could sense that and it’s notA a very likeable characteristic to have. But I found comfort it in it. I think that’s why. It’s not so much that people didn’t like it, it’s that I liked the fact that I didn’t like it.”
Ex-Raptor Terrence Ross on playing Bryant for the first time:
“It was my rookie year. We played him in L.A. I didn’t play that game but it was kind of like a front seat to the Lakers show. He killed us, he killed us bad. He hit a couple threes in clutch moments, he dunked to take it into overtime so I was like, “This is like vintage Kobe. And I remember my mom was sittingA courtside and she was looking me the whole time, like, ‘This is bad for ‘y’all’. But it was fun, IA enjoyed it.”
Ex-Raptors coach Dwane Casey on where Bryant ranked in terms of hardest players to design a defence against:
“He’s one of the tops. Just because he could score. Not only that, but you had to worry about him defensively. He was a roamer defensively. He was a one-man zone. He knew exactly what you were going to do, how he was going to impact the play. Defensively, he could do so much: he could do so much. He could play outside. He could play inside. Pick-and-roll. At the end of the game, they always go to the 52. They would trash the triangle and start going to Kobe. You knew you were in trouble then. That was kind of a hard thing to design a defence for, because he could do so many things.”
“In his younger days, when he got to the baseline, it was death.
It was death when he got down there. He and Michael (Jordan) … both of them had that killer, laser-like mode, vision, focus. Both of them brought their team up. They were so much alike it was scary, the thing with the tongue and the whole nine yards at that time.”
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich at all-star weekend in Toronto in 2016:
“You remember all the struggles against him and all the competitiveness and you respect him so much for bringing it night after night after night.”
Canadiens @ Oilers: Start time, Tale of the Tape, and how to watch – Habs Eyes on the Prize
How to watch
Start time: 7:00 PM EST / 4:00 PM PST
In Canada: CBC, Sportsnet 360 (English), TVAS (French)
The Montreal Canadiens will look to add another win on their Western-Canada-plus-Seattle road trip two nights removed from an exciting 2-1 victory over the Calgary Flames on Thursday. The game might have been a one-goal contest, but it would’ve been a lot different if goaltender Jake Allen hadn’t stood on his head, making a whopping 45 saves in the victory, his first since November 19.
Tale of the Tape
|45.8% (24th)||Scoring-chances-for %||50,5% (17th)|
|2,78 (26th)||Goals per game||3,42 (9th)|
|3,39 (22nd)||Goals against per game||3,63 (7th)|
|15,7% (29th)||PP%||27,6% (5th)|
|82,3% (6th)||PK%||71,6% (27th)|
|1-1-0||H2H Record (’21-22)||1-1-0|
On Thursday, it was Montreal’s first overall pick from this summer’s draft, Juraj Slafkovský, who opened the scoring on the first shot of the game at 13 seconds, when Calgary all-star goaltender Jacob Markstrom decided to leave his crease to try to play the puck, which inevitably resulted in a poor miscue by the former Vezina nominee.
Habs standout Cole Caufield, who has been mesmerizing fans and brass alike, scored the eventual game-winner, a power-play marker six-and-a-half minutes into the third period for his team-leading 13th goal of the season. The man advantage has been a bit of a soft spot all season, finding itself 29th in the league, and also especially after going zero-for-six earlier in the week against San Jose, it was nice to see it clicking for once.
Thursday’s game was also a homecoming of sorts for Sean Monahan, a former 2013 first-round pick of the Calgary Flames. His return was met with a lot of chants and cheers, as opposed to Kirby Dach’s return to Chicago a week prior. Monahan, who currently sits fourth in team scoring with five goals and 16 points, assisted on both Montreal goals.
Tonight’s opponent, the Edmonton Oilers, saw their three-game winning streak come to an abrupt halt in their last game Thursday night, a 5-3 loss to Kirill ‘The Thrill’ Kaprizov and the Minnesota Wild squad. The Oilers’ one-two punch of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl each had a goal and a helper in the contest, but it didn’t help their cause.
McDavid and Draisaitl have been two of the best players in the game in recent years, and yet again find themselves on pace for record-setting seasons, sitting number one and three in the NHL scoring race, respectively. McDavid’s 19 goals and 43 points through his first 24 games make his numbers last season (44 goals and 79 assists) look like a poor performance for the perennial all-star.
His German counterpart currently has 16 goals and 38 points, making his career-best totals of 55 goals and 110 points also seem well within reach, which makes these two some of the best teammates at the top of the leaderboard since the late-90s when the Pittsburgh Penguins had Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr taking the league down in a fury.
Both Edmonton goaltenders, Jack Campbell and Stuart Skinner, have shared an equal workload with Mike Smith on the Long-Term Injured Reserve list. Campbell, who signed an off-season deal with the Oilers at five years and-$25 million, has put up seven wins, but a league-worst 4.12 goals-against-average.
Last season saw these two squads split the season series, with each road team getting a victory. Edmonton took the first contest, a 7-2 dismantling at the Bell Centre on January 29, and then Montreal exacted revenge on March 5, with a 5-2 victory at Rogers Place.
One bright spot for Habs last year was that of all nine of Edmonton’s goal-scorers versus Montreal, none wore the number 97. McDavid registered zero points across both contests. Just a little optimism that it can repeat itself Saturday in Alberta.
NHL Buzz: Manson out week to week for Avalanche – NHL.com
Welcome to the NHL Buzz. The 2022-23 regular season is underway, and NHL.com has you covered with all the latest news.
Josh Manson is out week to week for the Avalanche because of a lower-body injury.
The defenseman, who sustained the injury in a 6-4 win against the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday, has six points (two goals, four assists) in 21 games this season.
Andreas Englund was recalled from Colorado of the American Hockey League. He has one assist in four games with the Avalanche this season.
“Englund has played good when he’s been up with us,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. “I really like what he did when he was up. … Just another big (6-foot-3, 189 pounds), heavy, strong guy that’s been an efficient puck mover for us on the back end.”
Teuvo Teravainen could return for the Hurricanes on Saturday one day after the forward was activated off injured reserve.
Teravainen, who has missed the past 10 games with an upper-body injury, has seven assists in 14 games this season.
Carolina plays at the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday (10:30 p.m. ET; BSW, BSSO, ESPN+, SN NOW).
Cam Atkinson said he’s getting closer to making his season debut, but the forward remains day to day because of an upper-body injury.
Atkinson added he’s been fully cleared for contact and is not restricted in any way.
“It’s obviously good to be back with everyone and take a little bit of licks and see how I do,” Atkinson said. “Just day to day for me right now.
“It’s been pretty good. A little bit of an adjustment but just working out the kinks. I’m getting close, but not enough to where I think I can help this team right now. But I’m closer than not.”
Atkinson was second on the Flyers in goals (23) and points (50) last season. Entering Saturday, Philadelphia was last in the NHL in goals per game (2.38).
Atkinson said the nature of his injury has allowed him to skate and stay in shape that way but that it might take a game or two for him to get his timing with the puck back to normal.
“If I was playing and if we had a day off, even one day off, even if I played 30 games and I took a day off, I still feel like that next practice my timing is just a little bit off,” he said. “Maybe it’s more mental than not. So obviously not playing any games it’s going to take a game or two to get adjusted, but we’re on a pretty good schedule for me right now. I’ve revved it up a lot and I’m feeling good. I feel like my timing is pretty solid, but you really won’t know until you play a game.” — Adam Kimelman
World Cup Daily: Timeless Messi is on a mission for Argentina – Sportsnet.ca
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